Epilogue

Dear readers,

Sadly, this will be the last post of this blog. It has been two months since I left Japan and three weeks since I came back to Finland. During my trip in Southeast Asia I didn’t really have time to think about Japan because I was so excited and busy with other stuff. I talked a bit with other travelers about Japan but I never really had time to reflect on my time in Japan. When I came back to Finland my friends were eager to ask me about my experiences and trips in Japan and finally I’ve had some time to really reflect on.

For some reason it has been hard to explain what I experienced in Japan. Now that I think about my time in Japan I think that being a tourist in Japan would be a better role for me rather than being a sort of an immigrant in Japan. I loved the country but there were many things that drove me crazy. Below I’ve tried to express my truest feelings about my exchange period in Japan. Please, don’t take anything that you read here too seriously and remember that I really loved Japan but I want to be truly honest because this is probably the most intriguing challenge that I’ve ever faced.

FOOD

I would divide “food” topic into to subtitles: cooking & going out to eat. The latter was much more fun and even though I don’t eat red or white meat it was ok. There seems to be a lot of restaurants that offer only meat or chicken dishes, e.g. yakiniku and yakitori, and some restaurants might not have any fish or vegetarian dishes but by checking the menu before entering you find easier right restaurants. You can easily find various dishes from iyakayas, and if you search in advance you can find vegetarian ramen which usually has meat and meat or fish broth. Sometimes finding food was pain in the *** but most of the time it went quite smoothly, and most of the food that I ate in restaurants was delicious.

Japanese food in general looks quite simple but it has mind-blowing flavours because of the different cooking techniques. If I understood correctly they don’t use much spices. My favourite Japanese dishes are sushi, okonomiyaki, rice, takoyaki, hot tofu, pickles and vegetarian ramen. I also liked hot sake a lot ;-)

Cooking in Japan.. from cooking point of view my first month in Japan was pretty awful. I just wanted to cry the first times I went to the supermarket because it was so overwhelming and I couldn’t find many familiar products. And I couldn’t read any of the labels because they were only in Japanese. After a while I found some products that I could use and not starve. Finding a breakfast become almost like a mission impossible. Granola was overly expensive and I couldn’t find flakes to make a porridge. There also weren’t real cheese for bread and the bread wasn’t good either (whitest bread I’ve ever seen). In the end I ate cereals with banana slices and sometimes with nuts, and sometimes I ate fried eggs. Now I might be ready for cereals but fried, scrambled or sunny-side-up eggs make me feel yuck because I also ate tons of them during my trip in Southeast Asia.

I could had learned about basic Japanese cooking on my own but I think it would had been fun to have like a master class of Japanese cuisine where we would had been taught how to cook Japanese everyday food.

UNIVERSITY

I thought that students in every level have to work like crazy so I was a bit intimidated of the courses. Then I found out that the hardest school for Japanese is the middle school and also high school is still pretty tough time but going to university is like their “last free time” to enjoy life and take it easy. After university the students go to work life and get married and babies which will make life quite busy and challenging again.

So no the courses (at least thought in English) were not hard. The only courses that put pressure on me were the Japanese language classes. I had three courses (in total 6 Japanese credits / 12 ECTS) which made me sweat and almost cry. The teachers really made us study hard and in the end I don’t even know what was the grade  of my final exam which is very annoying. The other courses that I had were very interesting but not very academic if I compare them with the courses that I’ve had in my university.

One of the great features of the Japanese university system is that they have club and circle activities in the universities. One can go and apply to the clubs and circles and e.g. play basketball, american football, baseball, ultimate or dance and do music and so on.

I think going to a Japanese university gave me one of the best seats to learn about the Japanese culture. There were so many “what is going on?” moments which taught me a lot about the differences between my country and Japan. One cultural feature of Japan is that one shouldn’t make oneself the center of attention and being quiet and calm is a valued virtue. This was very apparent in the classrooms. Practically NO ONE wanted to talk when the teacher asked a question in the class. Yes, this happens also in Finland but if the teacher addresses the question to someone usually that someone has to say something. Talking in groups was sometimes painful when no one wanted to talk. Of course the students might had been also shy to use English but this made me so sad and also a bit angry because I could had learnt so much more about the Japanese culture itself if more people would had spoken up. Also one very surprising thing was that only a minority actually spoke English. So it was very hard to communicate with others because my basic Japanese skills didn’t take me far….

SIGHTS
Japan is definitely worth of seeing because everywhere you go there is something interesting and beautiful to see! Every city seems to have something to offer. Specially in Kyoto I loved the greenness and the surprising streets because there are thousands of temples waiting for you in every turn. I missed some modern art museums and other museums but according to guidebooks e.g. Tokyo is full of them.

I also didn’t have a chance to see the cherry blossoms (March-April) nor Mt. Fuji (best time to visit August).

Japan is so much full of surprising things that making a list would be boring so I just suggest you to GO there and experience the country yourself.

TRANSPORTATION

I went to Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Nara and I’d say that getting around is quite easy after you learn the logic. Using buses is very easy because they have English signs as well but trains and subways need more attentiveness. There are many different trains and subways that you should check the routes from maps carefully. People are very nice so if you ask someone they will help you even though they can’t speak English which is very sweet. :-)

LANGUAGE

The language is just cryptic! I thought in beforehand that it will be hard but OMG studying Japanese language has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Like I have mentioned before they have very complicated writing system which consists of three different character types: hiragana, katakana and kanji. The first two character types have less than 50 characters each and kanji has several thousand characters. During the semester I had to learn hiragana and katakana and around 150 kanji characters.. it seems like nothing but I really had to spent many hours to learn even these characters and now I am sure I have forgotten 95% of the characters.

I take this learning experience as a brain exercise and I am not sure if I want to continue studying Japanese.. It is not very motivating to learn a language that seems like a cryptic puzzle and specially with my memory I don’t think I could ever learn enough characters to really be able to read something. For reading a news paper you need to know at least 2000 kanji characters….

So thanks for the puzzle but I am done..

SOCIETY

Ahh this is a topic that will never make me bored with Japanese culture! It is SO hard to even imagine how our Western culture differs from the Japanese culture. You really need to go there and experience it yourself. I knew that it would be very different but I never really knew what to expect.

If compared to my country (Finland) Japan seems to be almost like an opposite. We are an individual-centered society and Japan is a group-oriented society. We have quite high gender equality (rank 2 in World gender gap index) where as the situation in Japan (rank 105) is quite different. Then again there are few things where we are a bit similar but I think Japanese take it to extreme: we need our personal space (specially physically), we are helpful toward outsiders but becoming friends can take time and we are shy.

By all means I don’t patronize Japanese culture and I don’t want them to become westernized. But I want them to be a bit more open because their culture is so interesting and it would be so fascinating to see more. I also hope that the different pressures of different actors would be smaller because it seems that every actor e.g. a father, a mother, a child, a man and a woman has too big pressures to live life so that everyone wins. I wish everyone would have more alternatives and freedom to choose what they want to think or want to do.

***

I am extremely happy that I decided to go to live in Japan and that I decided to stay there. There was a point when I thought about going home because some things were too much. I couldn’t be my normal active and initiative self and that was the hardest part for me. I had to rely on locals and things didn’t progress as I am used to which made me almost break down. I am very passionate and energetic person in good and bad so I had to tone down myself which made my feelings ride a roller coaster – everyday. But I decided before I left to Japan to be open-minded and respect the Japanese culture as much as I am able to and I tried to hold that promise through my stay in Japan. I hope that I didn’t offend anyone while my inner battle and learning but I can say that I am truly happy that I spent five months in Japan. I got what I went to look for: new experiences in a totally new culture. Japan will always have a special place in my heart ♥

http://www.travelmyne.com/asia/japan

Hopefully one day I will experience the cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji.

Mesmerizing Bangkok

Sorry it took me a while to write about my stay in Bangkok but my week in Finland has been quite busy so I haven’t really found a place or time to write anything. I arrived to Finland on Friday 13th of March and have been already in three different cities. First weekend I spent in Helsinki at my friend’s house and then I came to Noormarkku and Pori to visit my family and during the week I also went to Tampere to meet my thesis supervisor. Yep, back to reality! Shortly, the first week in Finland has been great! The weather has been perfect so far (cool and sunny), I’ve met few familiar faces and I have slept a lot.

But let’s talk about Bangkok which was an amazing city!! I’ve heard different opinions about it; some say it is smelly and not nice, and some had said that it is a very cool city. I spent there only 2,5 days but still I can say that it is so interesting and fascinating and I could definitely go back there. Yes, it was a bit smelly but it wasn’t so bad and the city is full of places worth of visiting.

I didn’t want to be running through the city so I chose few places where I decided to go and I’d say all of them were worth of visiting. I visited Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha), Wat Arun, Golden mountain, Forensic museum, MBK shopping mall and Lumpini Park. I also went to the beloved and dreadful Khao San road which is more like a touristic hell. It is a shopping and restaurant street occupied by tourists. I tried to spent my last bahts there but in the end I did a poor job in shopping. I bought couple of things, had a foot massage, ate a lot and drank few beers and even still I had some bahts left.

Moving around in Bangkok was really easy and it was so nice to have different transportation options because especially in Vietnam and Cambodia and in the islands of Thailand there aren’t many different options for moving around the city. In Bangkok one can choose from a ferry, subway, skytrain, bus, taxi, motorcycle taxi and tuk tuks. I tried almost all of the different transportations and I’d say that if possible avoid motorcycle taxis and tuk tuks if you are travelling alone because they are quite expensive. And if you decide to use a taxi, use only meter-taxis because if the taxi drivers try to set the price in advance, you end up paying a lot more than you should. I noticed that moving taxis are most likely meter-taxis and taxis that are parked are most likely the “bad deal taxis”. I also heard that the pink taxis are the best but also green + yellow taxis are reliable too.

Also one advice with any of the drivers in Bangkok is that make sure that your driver knows your destination! I mean you really have to test him whether he really knows where to drive. So you should study a bit the map and explain to the taxi driver where you want to go because otherwise they might start driving and then later be lost because the driver never really knew where to go.. I also learned to just skip the drivers that had no clue where to take me. I noticed that it can save your time, money and nerves…

I can’t really say why I liked Bangkok so much. Maybe it was so nice to see a big city after Vietnam and Cambodia because Bangkok truly is a big city. It has lots of skyscrapers and other interesting buildings, many places for tourists and I just liked the vibe of the city. I also had a chance to meet up with a Thai friend who I met in Japan. That was just a perfect ending for my trip in Asia.

I stayed at Old Town Hostel:

  • a bit far from the touristic areas
  • close to one pier where one can hop on a ferry
  • very big and neat hostel
  • good beds and facilities
  • very nice and helpful staff
  • one can store their bags for free for up to 30 days
  • I paid 290 bahts (a bit over 7 euros) per night in a 6 bed mixed dorm

Island edition: Koh Lanta and Koh Mook

I just arrived back to Bangkok from the islands near Trang. I spent 8 days at beaches of Koh Lanta and Koh Mook. I really didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never been before at islands and I don’t even remember the last time I had a beach holiday. I was afraid that I would get bored and miss action. The truth is that I relaxed 110% and I’ve never been as lazy as I was in Koh Mook and Koh Lanta. I got lazier every day and basically my 8 days consisted of this: eating, sleeping, sunbathing, swimming in the sea and one day I rented a scooter and one I day I walked around the island for couple of hours (and that wore me down hehe). In the last few days I have been sleeping quite well and long but still I’ve been very tired all the time. In conclusion I enjoyed the islands a lot!

I travelled with a friend who came from Finland. We met in Bangkok and flew together to Trang Town. As I mentioned above we decided to visit Koh Lanta and Ko Mook. Our aim was to find peaceful beaches that aren’t too touristic, if that is possible here anymore. So no full moon parties this time.

We stayed the first night in Trang Town because we arrived so late so we couldn’t take a ferry or a minibus to Koh Lanta anymore. Trang seems to be very small and sympathetic town but not very interesting. We went twice to the night market which surprisingly was one of the best I’ve visited so far. It doesn’t have much stuff that I want to buy but it was full of food that I wanted to taste.

After Trang we took a minibus to Koh Lanta which was quite affordable, only 280 bahts (7 eur). We stayed there around 3,5 days which was quite enough. The island is nice and quite quiet but it was full of Swedes, Finns and Germans. In Lanta we rented scooters and cruised around the island to see the other beaches. I have never driven a scooter before but I definitely wanted to do it because the traffic was relaxed compared to the other cities’ traffic where I‘ve been. Also the left-hand traffic didn’t feel bad because I got used to it in Japan. I wonder how the Finnish right-hand traffic will feel like when I return.

In Lanta we found very nice restaurant right next to our hotel. I don’t know the name of it because it had only one sign that said “Drink and foods” :-D. The food was really tasty and quite cheap! Also one of my favorite things on the island was a pancake that one lady made on the street from her “moped street kitchen”. I went there twice to have a banana & pineapple pancake with vanilla/chocolate sauce. It was only 30 bahts (0,75 eur) which was just ridiculous!! It was soooo good..

Also what was a bit surprising is that majority of the people living in Koh Lanta are Muslims. They also had Muslim women driving the tuk tuks which was great but when you are not used to the view it can seem a bit strange. I’ve seen nowhere else women driving a tuk tuk and here the women drove it with the Muslim scarf. Which is great!! I hope every woman all over the world can do what the men do if they want to.

After Koh Lanta we headed to Koh Mook which blew my mind right from the beginning. The Had Farang beach looks amazing! Very peaceful and quiet, amazing scenery, crystal clear water, affordable food and only few restaurants. I am amazed how untouched the island seems to be. One thing though probably scarred me for life. Our bungalow was quite near to the jungle and I saw twice monkeys eat anything they found from the yards. But on the second time the monkeys weren’t so nice because the assholes tried to attack me. They were stalking under our bungalow and in the bushes. I thought that I could still pass them and go to MY bungalow because I had passed them earlier but this time all of the monkeys went nuts and one of them almost assaulted me. It made awful noises and ran a bit after me aggressively. I screamed like crazy and I can just remember the teeth that looked surprisingly sharp and big. I will forever hate monkeys. I had also other encounters with fauna of the islands. One small gecko was sitting on my shoulder blade, a small jellyfish burnt my skin and a bird pooped on my back. I was waiting that a snake would also bite me but luckily at least that didn’t happen.

Few words about the accommodation:

Guest House in Trang: Yamawa

  • not far from the Railway Station
  • very basic facilities but it was ok
  • very sweet and helpful owners
  • free towel and water
  • nice and hard beds (good for your back) but a bit shaky
  • no breakfast
  • 13 eur per night in a twin room

Hotel in Koh Lanta: Lemonade Inn

  • very good location, very near to the Klong Dao beach
  • nice and helpful staff
  • new looking rooms and facilities
  • free towel and water
  • no breakfast
  • 950 bahts (about 24 eur) per night in a double room

Bungalow in Koh Mook: Had Farang

  • very basic bungalow (washroom, twin bed, a chair and small table, a terrace with two chairs)
  • like a children’s playhouse :-D
  • the beds were ok but not great
  • internet only in the “lobby”/restaurant
  • near to the best beach of the island
  • small monkey problem
  • One night around 14 euros per night

Trang Hotel in Trang Town

  • I don’t really recommend this. Yamawa was better experience.
  • Breakfast should had been included but it was hard to get an answer that what part of the breakfast is free because I didn’t have a common language with the waiters
  • Internet worked only in the lobby
  • Gloomy rooms even though the whole building was very colourful.
  • Looked like it was stuck in the 60’s
  • I think it was around 14 euros per night

PS: I would recommend the Nok Air airline company! We flew with it from Bangkok to Trang Town and back to Bangkok, and everything went smoothly. We paid around 55 euros per tickets, and a small snack (a pastry and a small cup of water) on a flight was included. The Nok Air has airplanes that look pretty new and they are branded in an interesting way. Lots of colours and the planes look like birds haha! They look so cute!

Tomorrow will be my last day abroad. My flight will leave in midnight so this will be also my last post abroad.. I will still write few posts but here is my last greeting physically from overseas. I can tell already that I’ve had an amazing trip!

Yello!

Found my favorite destination so far: Battambang

Before entering Cambodia I had heard so many travelers say that Cambodia is their favourite place in South East Asia. My expectations were high but I couldn’t find “the magic” from Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked those places but something was missing.. until I came to Battambang! As soon as I stepped out of the bus I knew that this place would be special. And it was! I had no setbacks except when I tried to leave from Battambang. I will tell you about that in another post..

Even though Battambang is the second largest city of Cambodia it seems like a cute little town. Everything was almost perfect. The people, even the tuk tuk drivers, were very nice, my guesthouse was great, the city was compact but had things to do and to see, the food and drinks were affordable and tasty. I really have no complaints except that it was extremely hot in the middle of the day and the mosquitoes were meaner than in other places where I’ve been. But really, the people were really friendly and they treated you like you are one of them or their friend. I didn’t feel like “a walking money machine”. The people seemed to be interested in you and specially the children were so adorable. I heard and saw so many cute “hello” greetings and waves. My heart melted!

I spent a bit over two days in Battambang. On first day I explored the city randomly and visited some temples. I also went to see a bat cave which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Everyday thousands of bats fly out of their cave to get food and hundreds of tourists go to see this. I have to admit though that it was a very cool view! On the second day I did a half day bicycle tour with Soksabike. I had a really great guide and I was the only one doing the tour on that day so that was great. We went to the countryside and visited some local families and I was able to see e.g. how they make rice wine, rice paper, dried banana chips and rice cake cooked inside a bamboo. That trip was the best tour that I have ever made! I thought at first that it is a bit pricy, 27 USD, but after the trip I think it was totally worth it. I had a chance to try the delicacies, practice some Cambodian sentences and cycle which was so nice. I have really missed actually doing something active. I think we cycled 20km in the end. I could have cycled more because it was so much fun.

From the snacks that I ate during the tour, I liked the rice cake the most. It was so good and I think it is better than sticky rice. You peel the bamboo and eat the “cake” with your fingers. The crust is a bit harder than the inside and the texture is little dry but not too dry. My rice cake was made of coconut milk, rice and red beans. Yummy! Even though I really enjoyed the tour it was a bit sad to hear the reality of the families. They work so hard and the profit from their hard work is not big. All these experiences make me think the times when I complained that my paycheck is not big enough. Of course everything is relative and Finland really isn’t a cheap country to live in but I guess most important thing is to whine less and appreciate more what one has.

On the last evening in Battambang and in Cambodia, I got a chance to go to an open-air concert that was sponsored by Ganzberg beer brand. I went to the concert with my bicycle tour guide and his friends. I was very happy to be there because it was full of Cambodians and it was just the perfect ending for my time in Cambodia. I heard Cambodian pop and saw interesting performances. One thing that I have noticed from all the Cambodian music videos and what I was told about the songs is that Cambodians have lots of love songs! I mean a lot. :-D

Funny thing is that I got also an invitation to a wedding party but I declined the invitation because I think it wasn’t a good and a safe idea. The person who invited me to the wedding was the tuk tuk driver who took me to the bat cave. I hardly knew him and I would had been dependent on him because the wedding party was held like 5km outside the city. If only the party would had been inside the city I could had considered going..

Comments about the Ganesha Guesthouse:

  • Very nice, friendly and helpful staff
    • I even got a needle and a thread to fix couple of holes and they would had given me the whole thread if I would had wanted to take it.
  • They have a movie room and they show The Killing fields movie every night and the ticket is only one dollar
    • Very well-made movie but also really sad. I recommend watching it but the subject is very heavy.
  • Mosquito net and a personal fan
    • A con is that you can’t use both at the same time because they just don’t work together. Either you are free from the mosquitoes or free from the heat.
  • Free pool and free towel
  • Good food in the restaurant
  • Only 4.5 USD per night in a mixed dorm

Yesterday I arrived to Bangkok and I noticed that I was missing Cambodia a bit. Overall I really liked Cambodia and Battambang was the crucial part to make me fall in love with the country. I really would like to visit Battambang again and also go to Kep and to Kampot for which I didn’t have time this time. Cambodia, until we meet again ♥

PS: I hate mosquitoes!!!!!

PPS: Has anyone ever heard about a Ganzberg beer??

Siem Reap – home of impressive archaeological sites

I am writing from Battambang where I arrived today by bus. It is pretty hot here and I am sweating like a pig. Some weather forecast pages claim that it is 34°C. And tomorrow it should be 35°C…

I came to Battambang from Siem Reap which is located in the north of Cambodia. It is famous for it’s archaeological sites of Angkor. Angkor is a vast area that has many remains of ancient temples. I was told that one should visit the Angkor temples (also UNESCO World Heritage site) at least for two days but I was pretty sure I’d be fine with one full day. And I was happy that I went there because the remains were very fascinating and impressive but I was right –  for me one long day in Angkor was enough. In total I spent three full days in Siem Reap.

Unfortunately I was feeling a bit sick on the night before leaving to Siem Reap and on the travel day I felt sicker. When I arrived to Siem Reap I measured fever and found that I had a small fever and I had a headache. I decided to take it easy and not do anything on that day except eat and sleep. Like I wrote earlier I spent one long day at the temples but on the other two days I didn’t do anything special. I ate, went to the vast market area and bought a few things. I also went to see a movie to a cinema but it was a bit different kind of cinema than I am used to. Siem Reap has only one cinema and it is a “private cinema”. There are 10 movie rooms in Angkor Cinema and one can choose a film from a wide selection of movies that the staff will play for you. You need to be at least a group of 2 because then you pay 5 USD each. If you are alone, you pay 10 USD. The rooms have comfortable seats and a small movie projector screen. The quality of the projection wasn’t superb but it was ok. I went to the cinema with another traveler and we ended up wanting to watch The Great Gatsby. I was thrilled that they had it because it is too long movie for me to watch at home but of course, with my luck, they couldn’t show it. We had to choose another movie.. So the first movie that I’ve seen in the last six months in a cinema was Hercules :-D Not a very good movie but Hercules looked good!

I liked Siem Reap on most parts even though there aren’t really much to see except the Angkor temples. Well yeah, they have couple of museums and a crocodile farm but they didn’t seem to be interesting enough.. One thing that I really hated were the tuk tuk drivers. Most of them were nice but there were few really nasty fellows who didn’t like that I didn’t want their taxi services. They shouted either in English or in Cambodian something mean and sometimes other tuk tuk drivers laughed to their “funny” jokes.

Also my arrival to my hostel didn’t really go smoothly. My tuk tuk driver said to me at first that he knows where my hostel is but he tried to leave me to another hostel which clearly wasn’t the right place. Even he admitted that and then said that he doesn’t really know where my hostel is. He really wanted to ditch me but I decided to play a little “drama queen” act and started saying things like “I trusted in you when you said where my hostel is” and “I am very disappointed that you lied to me”. I also said I wouldn’t pay because we agreed on that he would take me to my hostel. Suddenly the tuk tuk starts moving again and while he is driving he is saying that he actually knows my hostel but he knows that it is full.. I decided to act a bit more and say melodramatically that “why did you take me then to the other place”. He knew that I had a booking.. he remained silent. The story got even more weird when we arrived to the right hostel. The receptionist lady looked at me with a face that said “wtf are you doing here” and she started repeating that they are full. At this point I had to really calm my nerves. I said that I had a booking and finally she found it from their papers. Then when I get to the room it is not even full, and it never was full during my time there! There were couple of other single girl travelers who had experienced the same. The whole thing was like a really bizarre movie scene. I decided to stay there because it was cheap and after Sihanoukville’s hostel I wanted to save some money. I was very suspicious about staying there but I decided to take a risk and face everything from an adventurous point of view. My trip had been too good and I had no interesting stories in my hand! In the end everything became normal and everything was ok. The staff actually became nicer every day, and it was hard to even believe the experience from the first day to be true. The best part was that after the tuk tuk driver took me to the right hostel and I had paid him, he asked me: “So what time will we go to the temples tomorrow?” I wanted to use a bit stronger words but I just said that “I have no specific plans yet and good bye“.

Comments about the Cambodia Backpacker Guesthouse:

  • cheap! 5 USD per night in a mixed dorm
  • towel included in the price, breakfast not
  • free toothbrush, a comb, a soap and a green liquid that I haven’t checked what it is
  • free refill of water
  • internet wasn’t very good sometimes
  • they had a cute baby and a dog named Billy :-D (nastiest dog ever)
  • the bed was a bit hard
  • the hostel has a very nice and sweet tuk tuk driver who took me and another traveler to the temples
  • quite close to the main market area, even though it was on the back-alley (but I felt safe even when it was dark)

Btw I highly recommend the Giant Ibis transport company. I took their bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and paid 15 USD (+1 USD because of internet booking). Maybe it was a bit pricy but it was worth it. It was easy to book via internet and you get an e-ticket, the bus had a good air conditioning, lots of space for feet, you get a free water bottle and a tasty bun. It is the best bus I have ever used!

Sunny and hot Sihanoukville

I’m in the midway of my trip! Oh no! At the moment I am very happy that I am doing this trip and I am enjoying it to the fullest. At the same time I am excited about going home and seeing my friends and eating the food that I’ve missed. Mixed feelings!

I just arrived to Siem Reap today. After Phnom Penh I went to Sihanoukville which is a beach resort in Cambodia. I stayed there only for two days because I don’t want to spend too many days at a beach resort because I am planning to spend couple of weeks in Thailand and I want to go to the beaches there. And I was afraid that my skin couldn’t take the sun and I was right. I spend only one day at the beach in Sihanoukville and managed to get a light tan to the front of my body and an interesting red colour to the back of my body. It doesn’t seem like I burnt the skin but it sure is a reaction to the sun. It’s still a bit reddish (three days after) but I am sure that it will be ok tomorrow. It was the same thing with my chest that I burnt in Phnom Penh. It is just red and it doesn’t even hurt.

I went to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh on Tuesday 17th of February. That has been the wildest bus trip so far! First my seat was double booked but luckily the next seat was free and I took it and no one had that seat marked on their tickets. Second the bus was really full-booked and some people (mainly the locals) sat on the aisle on tiny plastic chairs. Third someone came to sit in front of me on the floor which meant zero space for my feet but at least I had a seat (I sat on the second floor and in the front row and there was some extra space in front of me). Fourth instead of five hours the trip took eight hours because we couldn’t leave faster the Phnom Penh city area due to a traffic jam. And fifth the bus was boiling hot. Not a very pleasant trip. I paid for the bus ride 8 USD. My advice is to pay couple of dollars more because that could mean a more pleasant bus ride. Due to Chinese New Year I couldn’t book a night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap because they were full-booked for few nights ahead (I understood that that is the only bus line to Siem Reap). I decided to go back to Phnom Penh because there would be more bus options and dividing the trip sounded tempting. The bus trip back to Phnom Penh was way better and took only five hours even though my seat was again double booked. But because I was sitting on that seat first I could stay there. I paid 9 USD for the bus back. Also most of the affordable accommodation options in Sihanoukville were full-booked.

I would say Sihanoukville is worth of visiting but make your mind what you want from it. There are few islands, e.g. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, for people who want to party or to relax. Sihanoukville seems to be a bit too touristic but it has many beaches to choose from. I went to Otres beach which is supposed to be the most quiet and “untouched” beach of Sihanoukville. I loved the beach! I spent the whole day in Rise which had very nice staff, nice sun chairs, good food and fair prices.

The day that I spent on the beach was also my birthday :-) I turned 28. Twenty eight. At the moment I think that it is the end of a certain period. I feel more “adult” even though it may not look like it hehe. I am ready to move on and I am happy with my life. I decided that this year is my year when I become adult. It doesn’t mean I become boring but there are some things that interest me now that haven’t interested before like saving money for an apartment. Also I want to start saving money so that I could someday buy a dog and I also want to save money for my next trip. I also want to graduate this year (start and get rid of my master thesis) and get a full-time job later this year. That’s all what I want for now. Simple but happy life with goals.

I really enjoyed Sihanoukville and I hope the sun made my skin a bit more tolerant so that I can enjoy sunbathing and swimming in Thailand later. I did a 3 island tour which showed me what I missed. I thought about going to the islands for couple of nights but I decided that Thailand will give me the island experience. The island tour was ok but the most memorable was the boat trip – in a good and bad way. We spent most of the time on the boat and at first it was always nice but after like a half an hour I started counting the seconds for reaching the next destination. The engine was very loud and there were a lot of big waves that rocked the boat. Many people became seasick and puked. Even I was close to puke but I didn’t.

Back in Phnom Penh I just decided to have a really late lunch / early dinner at a restaurant where I went earlier and then just relax the rest of the evening. I really like the Asia Spice Café because of the customer service and it looks authentic. Also the prices are affordable and the food tasty. I recommend Asian Spice Café to everyone who likes Cambodian and other Asian food!

For some reason in Sihanoukville and after that I noticed that locals were acknowledging me more. Or maybe I started noticing my environment. Sometimes I have a tendency to slip to my own world and not care of the unknown people around me. It is also a way to protect myself from losing my nerves because I noticed that in Asia (sorry, generalization) people tend to stare at me because I look different. It makes me really uncomfortable. But for the first time during this trip some locals wanted to have a picture with me, called me beautiful haha and some young girls looked at me shyly. Maybe it was because I became a living person again because I got some colour on my skin and wasn’t like a ghost anymore :-D

Some comments about the hostels:

Backpackers Heaven (Sihanoukville)

  • The price was too high compared to the premises
  • The bar was very nice and cozy but not very lively
  • There was a pool
  • Towel included in the price
  • No breakfast
  • The bed was good but no private reading light
  • Washroom was ok but you couldn’t lock it
  • The receptionists and bar staff were very nice and sweet
  • You get a free beer after check-in
  • Not very good internet connection
  • 12 USD in a mixed 8 bed dorm

Top Banana Café (Phnom Penh)

  • Price is very good!
  • The beds are comfortable but there is a party every night which keeps you awake but only until 1am (then is perfect silence)
  • You can get a towel if you pay a deposit
  • No breakfast included
  • The staff are very nice (receptionists = bar staff)
  • Very nice and lively bar and nice balcony areas
  • You get a free drink (beer, coffee or tea) after check-in
  • Good location
  • Not very good internet connection
  • 6 USD in a female 4 bed dorm

PS. Sorry for no links. For some reason the internet connection and my computer don’t work well in the current hostel. With my phone it works better..

The Capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was my first destination in Cambodia and it is the capital. I took a bus for 9 USD from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and the trip took around 7 hours. Crossing the border was easy. The bus company took care of the visas by asking passports and money (35 USD) and everything went smoothly. The first thing I saw in Cambodia were big casinos at the border, which was quite surprising. There weren’t many hotels or houses so it made me think that who goes to the casinos near the border?!

A pickup from the bus stop was included in the hostel room price so I had no problem to find the hostel because there was a taxi driver waiting for me at the bus stop. The hostel is near Wat Phnom which I went to see on the first day. I didn’t go anywhere else on that day because I was dead tired after the bus trip. I went to sleep at 9 am! The night was crazy because I saw couple of dreams that felt real and I wasn’t sure if they were dreams or not. The other dream was a repetition of the other day when I bought sunglasses. Except in this dream the vendor didn’t sell the sunglasses to me. After I woke up I had to check that do I have the sunglasses or not :-D and I did have them. The other dream was a bit more thrilling.. I saw a dream where the guy on the next top bunk bed was singing extremely loud in the middle of the night and I asked him to sing in the morning or when people are not sleeping. I found out later from others that he was actually hitting and kicking his bed and fighting about something… I still don’t know if I said anything hehe..

My second day in Phnom Penh was pretty boring because I stayed almost the whole day in the hostel. I had to sacrifice one day for school assignments because they have a deadline so I had no choice. And it is my last university course so I didn’t actually mind. I spend most of the time in the bar / restaurant area where they play good music, the chairs are comfortable and it is a kind of an outdoor area.

On the third day I finally had time to go and see what Phnom Penh has to offer. I left already 9 am because I woke up quite early again, and I came back to the hostel around 4:30 pm so I spent quite many hours in the downtown. I decided to walk as much as I can and take a tuk tuk when I get tired. After doing almost nothing for two days, except sitting, I just wanted to walk around. First I went to National Museum of Cambodia which was a bit of a disappointment. The entrance fee was 5 USD which is quite a lot. Due to the high price I was expecting something great but the museum was just full of ancient sculptures. I usually skip sculptures but this time I couldn’t.. At least they had really nice and interesting sculptures of Buddhas and Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The museum building and its yard were really nice too. But I wouldn’t say that all this was worth of 5 USD.

After the National Museum I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was about the horrible genocide that happened right after the civil war. The genocide ended in 1979 which is only 36 years ago. 2 million people were killed. The history and the recorded evidence are very disturbing. The rulers of Khmer Rouge, that was behind the genocide, forbidded education and thought that power lies in work. People were forced to work and people who somehow seemed “suspicious” or opposite to forced labor were put to prison or were killed or something else horrible happened to them. The prison time was full of sadistic torture. Just awful to hear and see. I decided to skip Killing fields because I think Tuol Sleng museum has shown me enough of this part of the history of Cambodia. Plus it is a bit expensive to go there because it is a bit far from the city.

I guess going to sleep early and waking up early feels natural now so I won’t try to force myself to change it even thought I’d like to wake up later. Today I woke up early again and went to see the Royal Palace. Because I was quite efficient yesterday, I had nothing special left for today. So I just walked around the city, went to the river and enjoyed the warm breeze and had an ice coffee and a fruit shake. The Royal Palace was really nice even thought I think that the entrance fee was quite high again, 6,25 USD. You enter to a yard which is full of beautiful buildings and nice flora. Visitors need to dress conservatively here. I also got a sunburn today because I was careless and forgot to put more sun cream. The sun and the weather seemed a lot hotter today compared to yesterday.

I also encountered today two young girls who were selling bracelets. I was sitting on a bench near the river and the girls came in front of me and laughed a bit. Then they explained that they had tried to guess what is my nationality. The other one guessed Japanese and the other one Chinese. I laughed a bit too hehe.. Then they asked me that what is my home country and I had to explain a bit because they had never heard of it (like most of the Vietnamese and Cambodians who had asked my nationality). They said that they aren’t selling anything because they have a free day but of course they tried selling me the bracelets. I said that I have only 1 USD extra so if they agree I can buy a bracelet from both of them with this one dollar. They gave me great discount and I let them pick me the bracelets. We talked a bit and it is hard to not be sad when you hear that kind of stories. They were really cheerful, full of joy but still didn’t possess much.

Overall I enjoyed Phnom Penh a lot. I was a bit surprised about the higher prices because I thought Cambodia would be cheaper than Vietnam. But I have heard that Phnom Penh is more expensive than for example Siem Reap. Basically all the meals that I had (breakfast and dinner) cost around 3 USD (from the cheapest end) and the tuk tuks were quite expensive (one trip in the city 2-4 USD). I had really yummy fruit shakes that cost only 1-2 USD and the motorcycle taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks so not everything seems expensive. The city had nice atmosphere and the people are nice and they have good sense of humour. On the other hand I got the impression that there are more poor people (or they are more visible), there were more children selling stuff and I also encountered few beggars (old and disabled people). I also saw how a woman left a baby on a pavement and left somewhere. The baby was on an asphalt without pants and only a thin blanket under him/her. I don’t know how that ended but I didn’t feel comfortable and I am afraid to see other disturbing things..

Comments about the hostel Eighty8 Backpackers:

  • Rooms, beds and washroom are ok
  • Receptionists seem not very proactive, and when you are asking something it feels like you are disturbing them
  • Bar staff ok and the food is good (also prices very affordable)
  • Breakfast not included
  • There were two blackouts during my stay, and the internet isn’t very good which made me write this post twice and once the restaurant “forgot” my order because of the internet (kitchen didn’t get the information)
  • There is a pool and a pool table (freeee)
  • Bed in a mixed dorm (6 people) is 7,75 USD per night
  • For some reason I got 3 USD voucher to the bar..